As I’ve said before, most of us probably take for granted the story of the Resurrection—we accept it because it has been part of our belief system our entire lives. So our problem again, will be not to explain what happened as much as it will be for us to personally decide what we are going to do about it. And again, the question we must ask is: “So what now—Jesus has risen—what difference does that make to me in my personal, everyday life?
Let’s first take a look at what was happening in our Scriptures today. To get the chronological order correct; we need to start with the 2nd reading from Revelation. Here we see rejoicing—glory and praise, because Jesus, “the lamb,” has lived, died and rose from the dead to new life—basically conquered evil! In Jesus, evil no longer has any strength or power. That is why in our times of trouble, sorrow and pain; we should invoke Jesus’ wonderful name. As Paul says so beautifully to the Philippians and is alluded to in this reading from Revelation, “At his name, every knee must bend, in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth!” Another way of looking at this is—no name has such power and strength to conquer evil than that of the name of Jesus. So our reading from Revelation depicts the joy of the heavenly multitude in all that Jesus is and has done.
Next, we need to look at the Gospel from John depicting a 3rd appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Here again we are struck as we were at Easter by the fact that at first, Jesus’ followers, faithful companions for his entire public life, three or so years, don’t seem to know him. Again, we hear that he didn’t look the same—resurrection changes us! It isn’t until he does something familiar, telling them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, resulting in a huge catch of fish, that they recognize him! Now, it might be good for us to stop for a moment and think about the fact that if resurrection has changed Jesus, then that fact signals that we are called to change too.
As we said last week, Jesus’ life wasn’t simply a show to impress, but a gift to us his followers, modeling for us how our lives are to be now. In their parlance, they are, “To feed his sheep.” Our grandson Elliot likes to ask his parents, in response to what happens in his daily life, following their lead of course, “Is this how we do it?” And to Elliot and to each of us the answer is, “Yes, this is how we do it”—now!
Moving on then to the Gospel message, we find that it really is intended to tie up some loose ends. After Jesus’ death the apostles really seemed confused and lost—they aren’t sure what has happened nor what to do next, so they go back to what they know best—fishing, to see if they can find their way again. It is kind of like when we leave where we are to go in search of something and when we get there, we can’t remember what we left our present spot for and if we return to the spot we left, we will remember again, what took us away.
We see Jesus working through what they know best, as he will with us, to bring them and us, to a greater truth—a new vision. For us, this will mean that our brother Jesus, working through his Spirit in the daily-ness of our lives, will prompt us to do what we must to best be his followers. We must listen and then, act!
In many ways, this rag-tag group of apostles is quite forlorn because in their hearts they are no doubt feeling badly for the way they turned their backs and abandoned their brother and friend in his greatest hour of need.
The very poignant exchange between Jesus and Peter of whether or not Peter loves Jesus, given the fact that before Jesus’ death, Peter denied three times that he even knew him, is, I think, Jesus’ way of telling Peter and us that he understands our weak human natures and forgives us all for not claiming him in the accused, the downtrodden, the abandoned, the poor, the sick and the afflictions abound where we need “to feed, to tend the sheep.” But it is there, precisely, where we must care for and tend the flock as Jesus told Peter—if you truly love me, as you say, then you must love my people in every way and in every place where you find them—you must work to protect and care for them. We all have been unexpectantly refreshed these past three years during the papacy of Francis and especially during his proclaimed Year of Mercy hearing him advocate for the poor in so many ways, encouraging understanding and leniency from his clerics when upholding the laws.
At present, groups within our Church advocating for the ordination of women, RCWP, WOC and the like are preparing to take Francis at his word. As he is willing to deal leniently with the Society of Pius X and lift their excommunications; we women are preparing a letter that will ask him to act likewise with validly ordained women who are at present considered, “illicit.” We are listening and will hold him to his word!
One of the most powerful things that I learned in my chaplaincy training many years ago was the importance of listening to people’s stories—trusting that what a person tells you is their truth. Their experiences have shaped their lives and when we can give the gift of listening to another, it can be a gift of life.
This gift of listening, valuing the story, the experience, is what we from different religious denominations must do going forward in order that we can move toward being one as our brother Jesus always intended. For someone to know that they have been heard and understood is such a gift. If we can affirm another, perhaps becoming an ally in their fight against injustice, abuse, whatever the issue might be, is to extend this great gift. Each of us has an experience, a life journey that is worthy of being heard—we all must truly listen if we ever hope to become one!
Reflecting further on today’s readings, putting them in chronological order; we come to the first reading from Acts. Here we realize that Jesus has returned to Abba God, but he has also sent his Spirit to the disciples to be with them, giving them the strength to proclaim the resurrection even though the powers-that-be are trying to silence them. Even the threat of death will not silence them as we know.
This is a message that we must hold onto as well in our lives—we must listen for the promptings of the Spirit as she will often lead us to do things apart from the status quo—we can’t trust that something is right or wrong because “everyone is doing it”or not doing it.” As Peter proclaimed in the reading from Acts today, when he was told to stop teaching in Jesus’ name—“Better for us to obey God than people!”
Jesus tells Peter in so many words in today’s Gospel what his fate will ultimately be, yet Peter proceeds to proclaim a truth he cannot keep to himself—that Jesus did live, did teach and preach, did show us how to live, which was basically, to love, and he did die, because to him it was more important that the truth about life be told—that we have a God who loves us totally and wants us to love each other in just the same way. And finally, that he did rise—something we don’t truly understand, but believe is a transition that awaits us one day too.
That, my friends is the message of Christianity—it’s the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We are to live, loving to the best of our ability, ourselves, and each and every one we encounter. God understands in Jesus that we can’t always do it perfectly—each of us has our weak moments, as did Peter—he wasn’t alone in that; but it is also possible to have great moments of strength as did Mary of Magdala and all those first witnesses to the resurrection—being fearless in speaking the truth they knew; proclaiming that Jesus not only lived, died and rose triumphant, but that he continues to live and love through each one of us if we allow that to happen.
So, I would like to end with the question I posed at the beginning: What difference does it make to us that Jesus has risen? Has the knowledge of who Jesus was and what he did make any difference in our lives? Just as the disciples didn’t know Jesus after the resurrection because he had changed, will anyone recognize the changes in our lives or is Easter just another day?